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Published on 9 June 2021

France - Firebrand leftist accused of pushing conspiracy theories over French elections

France's hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon was accused of reckless speech and fuelling conspiracy theories on Monday after he predicted there would be a "serious incident or murder" designed to manipulate voters ahead of next year's presidential election.

 

Published on June 8, 2021 in France 24

In controversial remarks made on a political talk show, Mélenchon pointed to a pattern of violent incidents dominating headlines in the run-up to recent presidential contests.

"You'll see, in the last weeks of the presidential campaign, we'll have a serious incident or a murder," the fiery head of the France Unbowed party warned, citing earlier examples.

Mélenchon referred to the killing of a police officer on the Champs-Elysées just ahead of the 2017 election and Mohamed Merah's terrorist killing spree – including his attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse – before the 2012 vote.

The hard-left leader also cited an attack against a retired man in his home in 2002 that stirred much public debate and was widely blamed for helping former far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen reach an unlikely presidential runoff that year.

Mélenchon, who took 19% of the ballot in the 2017 presidential race, also drew criticism for pushing the theory that President Emmanuel Macron was an invention of shadowy and powerful interests who control the country and that next year's election had been "written in advance".

Referring to Macron's surprise victory four years ago, he said: "In every country of the world, they've invented someone like him, who comes from nowhere and who's pushed by the oligarchy."

 

'Disaster'

Government ministers lashed at Mélenchon on Monday, with Junior Interior Minister Marlène Schiappa slamming a "mix of paranoia and conspiracy theories", while Digital Affairs Minister Cédric O lamented a "political and republican disaster".

Current far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has frequently courted Mélenchon's supporters, also pounced on the occasion, suggesting the veteran leftist was "on the loose" and expressing her "sadness for his voters who certainly do not recognise him".

There was also criticism from prominent campaigner Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the mother of one of Merah's victims, who blasted Mélenchon's "unacceptable" comments.

The France Unbowed party, however, stood by its leader.

Clémentine Autain, the party's candidate in upcoming regional elections in the Paris area, insisted Mélenchon was "not a conspiracy theorist" but wanted to highlight how crime is used as a political tool by the right and far-right.

Mélenchon himself denounced an "odious manipulation" of his words.

 

'I'm the Republic'

A fiery orator, the 69-year-old former Socialist Party member is known for his outbursts and controversial statements.

In 2019, he received a three-month suspended jail term after shoving a police officer during a raid on his office and shouting, "I'm the Republic!"

Polls suggest next year's president election is likely to come down to a repeat of the face-off between Macron and Le Pen, although analysts say the political climate is highly unpredictable.

Mélenchon came fourth in the first round of voting in 2017, less than two percentage points behind second-placed Le Pen.

While his popularity has taken a hit since then, the hard-left leader is known to be a formidable campaigner and is still seen as the left's best chance of reaching a presidential runoff next year.

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